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'Doctors are all prone to telling stories'


Table conversation at home was all medical
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Table conversation was all about medicine, and by the time I came back from Brafield, my two older brothers were both medical students, so there were then four people to talk about medicine, both parents and my brothers. My mother, in particular, was a very good storyteller and loved telling medical stories, either impervious to the gruesome and to the shocked effect of listeners. Jonathan Miller, actually, does a very good imitation of my mother and how, for example, she would combine, synchronise the pus and the soup or... or whatever it was. Oddly, she’d do this both ways, because she also liked giving recipes to her residents and her assistants and she... she would talk about food when she was operating, and she would talk about surgery at mealtimes, and the two things were very close. The... I think I was both fascinated and horrified by many of these medical stories.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Jonathan Miller

Duration: 1 minute, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: 19-23 September, 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012